Did the Capitals peak too soon? Will Michael Latta be back with the Caps next season? What’s the future of Mike Richards? Are Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom running out of time to win a championship?
Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan addressed a variety of offseason questions facing his team following its second-round exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs. In Part Four of his Q and A with reporters, MacLellan answers a few of those questions:
On if he thinks the Capitals peaked too early this season:
I don’t know that you get to control that. I think the season kind of lays itself out for you.
The coaching staff emphasizes certain things throughout the season and I know our coaching staff was like, ‘You know, we’re going to respond to losses. Don’t lose two games in a row. We’re going to adjust the urgency level, the starts, and so forth.’ And we did at the beginning of the year and then I thought we got out of rhythm and we couldn’t completely get it back. We got it back for periods of time but it was gone after that break.
I think changes happen, players move and your chemistry within your team changes throughout the year. I don’t think Pittsburgh (says), ‘We’re going to peak at the end of the year, we’re going to fire our coach, we’re going to change lines just to play good down the stretch.’ It kind of happened for them because there was a level of urgency there.
Ours played out the other way. We probably got too far ahead and there wasn’t that ‘we need to do this, we need to do that.’ It was more, how do we get to the playoffs playing the right way, which is hard to manufacture. We need to be at our highest level right now when we’re number one in the league. I guess in hindsight you’d want to spread it out a little bit better but I don’t think you’re in control of that.
On if he plans on re-signing all three restricted free agents on the current roster (Marcus Johansson, Tom Wilson, Michael Latta):
Yeah, I think we’ll take some time to evaluate. We’re going have to see how we want our bottom six to look going forward. Where do we want to add speed? Who’s going to PK? We’re going to have roles that we need to define and we’ll probably prioritize everything and I would assume they all come back as of now. There might be changes depending on what, you never know what comes up in the trade market. Names that come up that might fit what we’re trying to do.
On the future of Michael Latta, who played in just 43 games this season (3 goals, 4 assists) and did not dress for a playoff game:
He’s got to be frustrated. I think he’s a great teammate, guys love having him around, coaches like him. I think the key for him is he’s got to bring something besides energy in that fourth-line role. He’s got to kill penalties, there’s got to be another dimension to his game for him to be successful in the league.
On the decision to sign Mike Richards, who managed two goals and three assists in 39 regular season games and no points in 12 playoff games:
We’re going to talk to him. We’ll talk to him and his representative. It’s probably both ways. I’m happy with what Mike did. I think he added a lot to our locker room. He’s a great penalty killer, competitive guy. We really valued his experience.
I would have liked to see more offense. He had some good chances, created some good chances for himself and just didn’t finish. I think he was a little frustrated. The offensive confidence that we thought might get there probably never got there. But everything else about his game I thought was excellent. Just a smart hockey player.
On the likelihood of negotiations with Marcus Johansson going smoother than last summer, when he was given a one-year, $3.75 million arbitration award:
I know the language is, everybody wants to come back, everybody likes it here, but you know, money’s money. I don’t think we’re going to get a break. No discount.
On the post-season reaction of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, who have failed to get the Caps beyond the second round in their nine seasons together:
You know, the whole team is a little agitated and angry. I think they all feel they didn’t accomplish what they wanted to accomplish.
Frustration is probably at a different level with Nick and Ovi because they’ve been through a lot over their careers. Somewhat, pressure falls to those two guys, more Ovi than Nick, to win a championship, so I think it’s hard when they see we have a good team, we have good coaches, we have a good system and we fall a goal short.
I think it’s what you expect. They’re angry. They’re frustrated. Both of them had, I think, good playoffs, in my mind. Ovi played really well. Good year, good playoffs. Took his leadership to a new level. Backstrom, you know, he’s always been a quiet leader. He had a good year, too. They both played well in the playoffs, to me. So, I think it’s just frustrating to them. It’s hard when they don’t achieve the success they wanted to achieve as a team.”
On the Capitals’ inability to take advantage of Ovechkin’s prime years as a player:
Yeah, I mean, I think — for him, it’s — our job is to surround him with a little more depth so there’s not the pressure. I think he can play a lot more if he doesn’t feel that pressure that he needs to win the games. As Kuzy (Evgeny Kuznetsov) gets better, as (Andre) Burakovsky gets better — I think he really enjoyed playing with (T.J.) Oshie.
I mean, that takes a lot of the pressure off him, offensively, and I think he can play longer given a good team, a deep team. I mean, if you’re going to put pressure on him every night to carry the team, he’s not going to be more excited about playing, which is natural.